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Friday, June 07, 2024

Leopardo (Los Angeles, CA)

Leopardo Restaurant
460 S La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036
323-272-3535‬‬
www.leopardola.com
Fri 06/07/2024, 08:15p-11:10p




Leopardo Exterior

Joshua Skenes' neo-Italian eatery Leopardo has undoubtedly been the buzziest restaurant debut as of late, so a visit was certainly warranted. If you recall, the last time Skenes really made some noise in LA was back in June 2019, when he launched Angler. However, at the time, it wasn't widely known that the he'd largely stepped away from the restaurant and its parent company Saison Hospitality by that point. Instead, the Chef began focusing on Skenes Place, a pricey (~$1,000pp), invitation-only dinner series held at his home in Hollywood Hills, while also continuing work on Skenes Ranch, an even more ambitious project based in Washington where he'd be cooking game meats for a select group of invited customers.

Angler, meanwhile, survived the pandemic by serving food in its Beverly Center parking lot, but closed in the middle of 2022 for a retooling. The restaurant opened back up again the following January with a new, less costly menu by Paul Chung and a revamped dining room, but sadly, shuttered for good in July 2023. The original Angler in San Francisco remains open, while apparently there's also a location in Bellevue, WA that's in work.

Getting back to Leopardo, the restaurant was first teased earlier this year, and takes its name from the leopard spotting oft seen on Neapolitan pizzas. Interestingly, Skenes' financial backer here is John Suh, former CEO of online legal document provider LegalZoom. The two took over the former La Brea Bakery space following its closure last year, and after a relatively quick turnaround, grand-opened Leopardo on May 14th.

Leopardo Interior
Leopardo Bar
Leopardo Dining Room
As mentioned above, Leopardo takes over the former Hancock Park storefront of La Brea Bakery Cafe, which itself was formed by the merging of florist shop Rita Flora with a small restaurant space next door that held the likes of Cobras & Matadors, Goat, Happi Songs Asian Tavern, and Flora Kitchen. Inside, things actually haven't changed all that much from the La Brea Bakery days, and in fact, the flooring and much of the furniture remains the same, though the pastry case has turned into a dining counter. There's also a patio out back that's in the works. Josh Skenes was indeed in the house tonight, and you can actually see him in the first photo standing by the pass, wearing a baseball cap and Crocs.

Leopardo Menu Leopardo Cocktail List Leopardo Spirits & Beer List Leopardo Wine List: Sparkling, White, Rosé & Skin Contact Leopardo Wine List: Red
We ran the gamut tonight, making our way through the entirety of Leopardo's often terse, Italian-ish menu. The cocktail list is beguiling and a bit perplexing, though the wine list is more comprehensible, and definitely leans toward both Italy and France. Corkage is $50 per bottle, limit two. Click for larger versions.

Wild Strawberry Tickler
Wild Strawberry Tickler [$21.00]
We ended up trying all of the cocktails as well, and started off with this gin-based concoction. I found it thick on the palate and brazenly fruity, but never overwhelmingly so thanks to the drink's bitter, herby backbone.

warm olives in grilled olive leaf oil
warm olives in grilled olive leaf oil [$9.00]
Two types of olive were presented, both served at an unusually high temperature. The green Bariolé olives were perhaps the softest I've had, and their relative mildness paired particularly well with the grassy savoriness and warmth of that leaf oil. On the other hand, the black Kalamata olives were noticeably firmer to the bite, with a much more pronounced piquancy.

ice-cold oysters with pickled seaweed granita
ice-cold oysters with pickled seaweed granita [$36.00]
We weren't told what sort of oysters these were, but they were mighty fine: clean, refreshing, and invigorating, with a refined brine that paired like clockwork with the nearly mignonette-esque tang of that seaweed granité.

Filthy Martini
Filthy Martini (Poured)
Filthy Martini [$20.00] | Clarified Green Tomato & Pickled Things
I tend to like my martinis on the dirtier side, so this "filthy" version of the cocktail was right up my alley. Think super vegetal, spicy, and pickley, with a tangible complexity. I dig it.

our ossetra caviar cured with country bacon salt & aged for 6 months
red flint polenta waffle; barbecue corn cob maple syrup & bordier butter
our ossetra caviar cured with country bacon salt & aged for 6 months [$300.00/60g] | red flint polenta waffle; barbecue corn cob maple syrup & bordier butter
One of Angler's most famous (and best) creations combined caviar with banana pancakes, so given the Chef's facility with the roe, I was very curious to see what he'd do with the ingredient at Leopardo. What Skenes did, it turns out, was pretty fantastic, maybe even better than that revered dish at Angler. I loved the depth and multifaceted salinity of the Oscietra, and how that linked up with the sheer sugariness of the corn syrup, with le beurre Bordier in the background moderating it all. The waffle also served as a clever vessel for the caviar, with its satisfyingly crisp edges, tender insides, and somewhat rustic qualities. A perfect amalgam of comfort and decadence.

2012 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs
A dining companion graciously brought along a bottle of the 2012 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs to pair with the caviar, and it didn't let us down. The wine showed off a youthful, concentrated nose brimming with sweet, juicy apples and a touch of floral. On the palate, the sparkler was eminently balanced and fairly round, with restrained orchard fruits and citrus joined by light toast, subdued minerals, and a somewhat yeasty underpinning. Quite an easy-drinker now, but with plenty of room to evolve.

giardiniera
giardiniera [$9.00]
This was, quite simply, the most sophisticated giardiniera I've ever had.

Momotaru Bloody Mary
Momotaru Bloody Mary [$20.00]
And speaking of sophistication, this was the most sophisticated Bloody Mary I've ever had as well. The drink was mezcal-based, and the smokiness of the spirit really integrated in quite an elegant manner, augmenting the cocktail's usual spices and seasonings.

purple sea urchin with california bluefin
purple sea urchin with california bluefin (Assembled)
purple sea urchin with california bluefin [$47.00]
Next up was a fruitful marriage of uni and tuna, with neither seafood domineering the other. I was a fan of the dish's peppery edge as well, while that thin, crisp sourdough cracker worked to set the stage.

ocean tilefish crudo, olio santo, pickled chili, caper berry & lemon
ocean tilefish crudo, olio santo, pickled chili, caper berry & lemon [$23.00]
Translucent shards of tilefish showcased a super satisfying texture, their softly sweet flavors meshing well with olive oil and particularly the herbs, the citrus brightening up the dish. I didn't get much from the advertised caper berry, but didn't really miss it.

The Brown Bear
The Brown Bear [$20.00]
One of my dining companions proclaimed that this was the best coffee cocktail he'd ever had, and I can see why. I got all those sweet, roasty flavors I was expecting, along with some delightfully nutty bits on top, but there was also this gravitas to the drink that I couldn't quite put my finger on, but which made this special.

marrow with sourdough cracker
deer tartare
deer tartare & marrow with sourdough cracker (Assembled)
deer tartare & marrow with sourdough cracker [$35.00]
I'm a sucker for a good tartar, and this was a damn good tartar. The venison itself ate clean and lean, coming out well-seasoned and imbued with just enough rusticity. The meat worked beautifully with the herbs, while again, that sourdough cracker provided the requisite crunch and counterpoint. I didn't even need the bone marrow, though I certainly didn't mind it.

garden lettuces, leaves & herbs with meyer lemon
garden lettuces, leaves & herbs with meyer lemon [$15.00]
This straightforward-looking salad served as a welcomed respite from the heftier dishes we were having. I found it bracing and bitter in the best way possible, with everything tied together by a bright, zesty dressing.

Rhubarb Like a Negroni
Rhubarb Like a Negroni [$20.00]
Here we have one of the smartest negroni variations I've experienced. I found the cocktail wonderfully floral and fruity, but with the drink's trademark bittersweet backing always present to keep things in check.

cali-prese with 18 hour tomatoes, honey vinegar & basil
cali-prese with 18 hour tomatoes, honey vinegar & basil [$19.00]
This riff on the iconic caprese salad was certainly successful. The crux of the dish really was the use of those long-cooked tomatoes, which offered a surprising amount of depth and concentration. They made a whole lotta sense with the lushness of that mozzarella and the refreshing nature of the basil, while vinegar served as a sort of unifying force.

classic caesar salad
classic caesar salad [$17.00]
The Caesar salad did in fact taste as classic as its name would imply, and featured some unusually crunchy croutons. I quite enjoyed the cheesiness of the dish, though I would've liked to have tasted more anchovy.

Cardoon
Cardoon [$20.00] | Barbecue Artichoke, Sparkling Cardoon, Amaro, Lemon
This long cocktail did an admirable job displaying the bittersweet, vegetal nature of the thistle in a complex, even a bit contemplative manner.

wild boar meatballs
wild boar meatballs [$32.00]
I generally have a hard time turning down meatballs, and that was certainly the case tonight. The balls were great texturally, and the use of wild boar resulted in a far more intriguing flavor profile than you typically find, one that worked hand-in-hand with the dish's sweet, herbaceous components.

margherita, buffalo mozzarella, early girl tomato sauce, olive oil, basil
margherita, buffalo mozzarella, early girl tomato sauce, olive oil, basil [$26.00]
Pizza time. The first to arrive was Skenes' take on the iconic margherita, and the first thing I noticed was its unusually girthy cornicione. However, despite appearances, the pie's outer edge ate surprisingly light-n-airy, with an agreeable crustiness and char that contrasted well with the interior's soft, floppy consistency. And speaking of that interior, it was all about those sweet, tangy tomatoes, which made for a nice back-and-forth with the slight bitterness of the crust.

Mezcal Infused with Wild Boar Roasted Over Mesquite
Mezcal Infused with Wild Boar Roasted Over Mesquite [$20.00] | Mini Bloody Mary Back
An unusually muscular mezcal was paired with a super savory, vegetal Bloody Mary chaser, and somehow, the unabashed aggressiveness of the two components actually served to moderate each other. Pretty cool.

whole-grilled whitefish in the lords water
whole-grilled whitefish in the lords water [$43.00]
Grilled, butterflied whitefish was a winner, coming out beautifully textured and full-flavored, with a crispy skin to boot. It wasn't clear to me what the advertised "lord's water" was, though. Straightforward, yet elevated, and oh-so satisfying.

re-marinara, country ham tomato sauce, wild oregano, olive oil, garlic (side of stracciatella)
re-marinara, country ham tomato sauce, wild oregano, olive oil, garlic (side of stracciatella) [$25.00]
This reworked pizza marinara also delivered. The key here was that salty, ham-infused tomato sauce, which melded seamlessly with the other assertive elements in the pie, all while the cheese softened the flavors at play.

Kyoho Frose
Kyoho Frose [$21.00] | Kyoho Grape with Cachaca & Asti Spumante
To the shock of no one, the frosé presented itself as a summery, slushy cocktail, its almost bubble gum-esque sweetness proudly conveyed, but never cloying.

grilled spear squid
grilled spear squid [$46.00]
Squid came out tender and saline, with a squirt of lemon functioning as an apt accent. However, I wanted a more forceful sear and smoke to really set things off.

hello satan, spicy tomato sauce, chilis & salumis, wildflower honey, garlic & herbs (side of giardiniera)
hello satan, spicy tomato sauce, chilis & salumis, wildflower honey, garlic & herbs (side of giardiniera) [$29.00]
Given its name, it came as no surprise that this final pizza was the spiciest of the trio. Its heat, though, was tempered by an overarching sweetness from the honey, as well as a plate of pickles on the side. Do note that all three of our pies were comped, as apparently the Chef wasn't happy with how they turned out, even though we had no complaints. We were even provided cards redeemable for a free pizza on a future visit.

Barbecue Old Fashioned
Barbecue Old Fashioned [$38.00]
This was by far the priciest cocktail of the bunch, though it wasn't clear exactly why. The drink deftly balanced a nearly candied sweetness with a very noticeable amount of smoke, while its finish brought a healthy dose of complementary spice. A rather bold, yet somehow approachable libation.

cow that roamed free & ate fermented things
cow that roamed free & ate fermented things [$60.00]
For our final savory, we had a steak that was quite unlike most others I've tried. Served rare, the beef displayed a palpable austerity juxtaposed against a well-seared exterior. The tanginess of the peppers on the side was absolutely crucial here, and I enjoyed the crunch and bitterness from the radicchio as well.

wild blackberry hand-pie with cream
wild blackberry hand-pie with cream [$14.00]
We moved right on into the desserts at this point. First up was the most rectangular pie I'd ever seen, one that demonstrated all your classic tart-n-tangy berry flavors, evened out by a dollop of cream.

Chocolate Springwater
Chocolate Springwater [$21.00]
This clarified cocktail was ostensibly inspired by the old school Grasshopper, and indeed, it tasted like a dusty Hershey's chocolate bar, but with mint coming through on the back end and lingering long. Neat.

frozen milk soft-cream with rum honeycomb & sourdough biscoff cookies
frozen milk soft-cream with rum honeycomb & sourdough biscoff cookies [$17.00]
Soft serve arrived delightfully textured, with a super creamy, lactic character offset by pinpricks of salt. The ice cream matched up swimmingly with those cinnamon-y biscuits, while the honey amped up the sugariness factor even further.

tiramisu 2022
tiramisu 2022 [$16.00]
This reimagined tiramisu ate fruitier, boozier, and even saltier than most, and was quite an achievement texturally, too.

Califobrian
Califobrian [$22.00] | Rum, Whole Coconut & Stracciatella
Our final tipple was a viscous one that revealed sweet coconut and warm, pandan-like flavors, all making for a fitting dessert cocktail-slash-digestif.

There's been quite a lot of fanfare surrounding Leopardo, and perhaps a bit surprisingly, the place managed to live up to the hype for the most part. It's like a mash-up of Angler v1.0, your neighborhood Italian joint, and a distinguished cocktail bar. Skenes' penchant for top-notch ingredients is plainly evident, and I do applaud how he's able to convey that resolve in a relatively straightforward, relatively approachable format. It all somehow makes sense. The restaurant describes its cuisine as "unfamiliar takes on the familiar," and I actually think that sums things up nicely.